Politics always makes good fodder for art. This year, two Irish-American Pulitzer Prize winners — playwright John Patrick Shanley and San Francisco Chronicle photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice — found inspiration in recent events. Fitzmaurice won in the category of feature photography for her images of an Iraqi boy’s reunion with his mother. Irish America Top-100 honoree Shanley won the prestigious award in the drama category for his play Doubt, playing on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre, following a successful run at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The play, star-ring Tony Award winners Cherry Jones and Brian O’Byrne, is set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964 and centers round the suspicions of a nun regarding a priest (O’Byrne) who may or may not be a child molester. Shanley admits that the inspiration for the play wasn’t so much the recent sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, but rather a “visceral reaction to current American political discourse.”
Though this is his first Pulitzer, critical acclaim and awards are nothing new to Shanley. The Bronx native won an Academy Award and a Writers Guild Award in 1987 for Best Original Screenplay for Moonstruck. Since then he has flourished in Hollywood, credited with writing and directing Joe Versus the Volcano and adapting the screenplays for the movies Alive and Congo. His break-out play was Danny and the Deep Blue Sea in 1984, and he has said that it is his playwriting and the constant and immediate feedback from theater audiences that makes his screenwriting possible.
Deanne Fitzmaurice, whose ancestors hail from Counties Wicklow and Kerry, is a native of Massachusetts. Her piece was a year-long photo essay which told the story of the miraculous recovery of a young Iraqi boy who was almost killed in an explosion and subsequently taken to America for treatment. The story even took her to war-torn Iraq where she captured the escape of the boy’s mother over the border into Jordan so that she could join her son in America. Speaking with Irish America recently, Fitzmaurice recalls their close call as the border was closed a mere 10 minutes later. The boy and his mother had been seperated for a year and one of the most moving elements to the story and the pictures was their reunion. Thankfully, the boy is doing well, but faces more surgery to remove shrapnel from his brain. While there are no immediate plans for a follow-up to this story, Fitzmaurice is currently photographing the Iraqi story from another perspective. Her current assignment brought her to Washington, D.C. to photograph injured soldiers home from Iraq. ♦